An Indian spin contortionist
Shivil Kaushik who? Not many had seen the scrawny left-arm wristspinner before he made his IPL debut for Gujarat Lions this season. Mystery spinner, they said. He had not played a single domestic game when he was snapped up by Lions. He still hasn't.
First ball in that first IPL game, he stopped in his run-up, twisted his body alarmingly, and sent the ball out from the back of the hand, head tilted skywards. "Exactly like Paul Adams, the frog in the blender," exclaimed former Zimbabwe fast bowler Pommie Mbangwa on TV commentary. Adams, the former South Africa spinner, himself tweeted: "Remind you of someone! Wow #Kaushik!" Social media was alive with cautions about his action: "Don't try this at home, school, or anywhere."
Kaushik impressed in his debut season, as did Lions. He claimed six wickets in seven matches at an economy rate of 8.34. Lions topped the points table in the league stage before losing the first Qualifier and the Eliminator.
Now back home in Bangalore, he describes it as a great season. His apartment is about 500 metres away from his college, St Joseph's, on Richmond Road. His father, Arun Sharma, who works at a telecom company, is a cricket fan. His mother, Sandhya, teaches at Army Public School.
"I wasn't inspired by Paul Adams or anyone," Kaushik says. "This is the action given to me by God. It came naturally to me, but later on, when I was 14 or 15, I watched videos of Paul Adams and I thought, 'If he can play for the country, why can't I?' I never wanted to change the action. I knew if I click with this action, I can make it big."
Has seemingly turning his body inside out every ball resulted in injury? Kaushik says no. "My body does not undergo stress or anything like that. It is the perception of people because such actions are rare."
Former Tamil Nadu and Chennai Super Kings allrounder Vidyut Sivaramakrishnan, who was part of the coaching staff of Hubli Tigers, Kaushik's team in the Karnataka Premier League, says Kaushik's understanding of his body is key.
"It comes naturally to him and his body is used to it for many years," Vidyut says. "He knows what works for him and that is his strength."
Vidyut thinks Kaushik can be "hot property" in T20 if he adds some variations. "Obviously the awkwardness makes it tough for the opposition," he says. "His wrist speed is also fast, and he mostly bowls back of a length without much width, which is difficult to hit in T20s. Except Steven Smith, AB [de Villiers] and Virat [Kohli], not many hit him in the IPL.
"At the KPL, he can always be difficult to pick and play, but at the IPL he has to keep adding to his game. I am confident he will continue to find ways to become consistent and better."
Kaushik agrees that it is crucial he expand his range to excel at the big stage. "You may be successful at the higher level in a couple of years but afterwards you will have to try to beat the batsman in every possible way," he says.
He is working on the flipper, and had a short stint with South Africa and Delhi Daredevils legspinner Imran Tahir, following Daredevils' win over Lions in Rajkot.
"I was eager to talk to him [Tahir] because he has been great for South Africa," Kaushik says. "He has six variations of the flipper. So after the match, Mayank Agarwal [Delhi Daredevils batsman], my friend who plays for Karnataka, asked if he could share some words with me. He was kind enough to show me the flippers.
"I feel the flipper is the toughest delivery for a wristspinner and I am working on it. I practise it at the KSCA IDBI spin foundation.
"Raghuram Bhat, who has played for India, helps me with variations. He is teaching me how to hold the fingers differently to grip the ball. If you grip the ball differently, it will also be a good variation. Holding the grip closer and also wider are things I am working on."
Kaushik's journey began when he beat about 3000 participants to win the Spin Stars Contest in Karnataka for bowlers aged between ten and 19 early last year. He won Rs 1 lakh, but the bigger prize was being a part of a camp supervised by former India legspinners Anil Kumble and Bhagwath Chandrasekhar.
Kumble was impressed by Kaushik and took him to Mumbai Indians for trials, where he bowled four overs for about 13 runs and took four wickets. An IPL contract did not materialise, though, because his name did not turn up at the auction. He did, however, get a chance to interact with Sachin Tendulkar, who advised him to bowl the cross-seam quicker ball, a delivery he developed later, to keep batsmen guessing.
Kaushik was then picked up by Hubli Tigers in the 2015 KPL, which was televised. He says that playing in front of noisy local crowds served as a "step up" to the IPL.
His unusual action caught the eye of IPL scouts and he soon trialled with Royal Challengers Bangalore, Rising Pune Supergiants, Delhi Daredevils and Gujarat Lions.
Kaushik says he nervously followed this year's auction on TV in February, hoping to be picked - which he was, for Rs 10 lakh (approximately US$15,000) when the first batch of uncapped spinners went under the hammer.
His former team-mate at Jawahars Club in Malleshwaram, KC Cariappa was signed by Kings XI Punjab for Rs 80 lakh ($120,000). Cariappa had been the first to make it to the IPL via the KPL when Kolkata Knight Riders bought him for Rs 2.4 crore ($400,000) in 2015, which was 24 times his base price.
"At that time Cari used to bowl medium pace," Kaushik says. "He and me joined Jawahars in 2011. Prashant sir, the curator at KSCA, spotted me bowling somewhere and told me to join Jawahars.
"Batsmen used to struggle to pick Cari, even our batsmen at the nets. They did not pick me much too," he laughs.
Kaushik says he was twitchy ahead of his IPL debut, against Supergiants. "I was very nervous. I could not even feel the ball. The stadium was jam-packed and shouting 'Dhoni, Dhoni, Dhoni.'"
His nerves eased when he beat Ajinkya Rahane first ball with one that skidded off the deck. In his second over, he had Steven Smith dragging a sweep back onto the stumps - only for it to be called a no-ball by umpire Chris Gaffaney for overstepping.
Kaushik was tonked for six next ball and looked shattered, but he came back strong in his next match, against Kings XI, where took the wickets of M Vijay, Shaun Marsh and Glenn Maxwell.
Kaushik then experienced the cruel nature of T20 when after bowling two decent overs he was swatted for 30 runs in an over by Virat Kohli at the Chinnaswamy Stadium. He finished that match with figures of 3-0-50-0.
"These are things that happen in cricket," Kaushik says. "You will have to move on. If you hold on, it will affect your future performances. A calm sea does not make a good sailor. It is important to learn from the experience. Coach [Brad] Hodge, Heath Streak and [Suresh] Raina bhai all gave me confidence to do well."
He bounced back against Sunrisers Hyderabad, taking 2 for 22 in four overs, although in a losing cause. He recalls tricking Yuvraj Singh into slicing a lofted stroke to long-off with a tossed-up ball, a wicket he refers to as a "special one".
"Our team motto was to entertain, execute and enjoy. I did that, we all did that," he says.
Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo